I’m making this quasi public-service-announcement, this public plea, because last week I found out that a member of my family—back in Georgia—likely has esophageal cancerv which was probably brought on by long-term untreated gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Since then I’ve been researching information on GERD and esophageal cancer.
The primary symptom of GERD is presistent heartburn or indigestion, which is so common that it’s not often associated with disease. Instead people take antacids to relieve the worst of the symptoms, and cope with the rest. Essentially, untreated GERD can irritate the lining of the esophagus near the stomach to the point that a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, in which the lining of the esophagus near the stomach is replaced by abnormal tissue.
The next step is cancer. The longer you go without treatment for GERD, the more frequent and persistant your symptoms, the more your risk for cancer increases. By the time you report symptoms, like difficult or painful swallowing, the five year cure rate is something like 5% to 30%.
I’m writing this because esophageal cancer is preventable to some degree, if you have GERD. Treating the symptoms of GERD can reduce your risk for esophageal cancer, simply by reducing or eliminating the esophageal irritation that stems from GERD. There are medicines now, both prescription and over-the-counter, that can eliminate persistant heartburn, and lower the risk of esophageal cancer for those who have GERD. If you have peristant heartburn and/or indigestion several nights a week (say, three or more) see a doctor ASAP to find out if you have GERD and to get treatment.
I know because I have GERD. A few years back, it got so bad that I was vomiting on a near nightly basis, because lying down often induced nausea. Basically, the bottom of my esophagus—where it joins the stomach—does not close completely. So stomach acid and digested food came up my esophagus, especially when I woule lie down. Fortunately, I’m married to a doctor who probably saved my life by nagging me to see my personal physician, get examined for GERD (which involved an upper-GI endoscopy, and a Barium-swallow x-ray session). I started taking Prevacid, then Nexium, and finally switched to Prilosec—which is available over the counter. When I’m on the medicine, the symptoms are gone. If I miss a day, they come roaring back. So, I take the medicine.
I don’t want to sound like a commercial, and I don’t want to sound melodramatic. But it occurs to me that a family-member of mine is facing some fairly serious health problems after decades of an untreated condition that can now be easily treated. So I wanted to post this just in case anyone reading it who happened to have untreated GERD might be moved to get examined and treated, and avoid problems years down the line.
If you’re one of those people, do it now and maybe years from now a loved-one of yours won’t be looking up information on esophageal cancer, and wondering what the future holds.